Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tips for Design: Character Design

So the other day I got a wild hair and figured that I would write some tips on designing characters for video games. I'm no expert, but I have some experience with it, so here we GO!

Now lets say you have an epic idea for a character to be the star of a game your're working on.
What do you do?

Well, you draw it or get someone to draw it for you if you aren't so artistically inclined.

Either way, you get it on paper for everyone to see.

You now have it drawn out more or less the way you saw it in your mind and you can go all buck-nutty and show it off to your co-workers, friends, and the masses of the internet.
Whats that? Some people have some no-so-nice things to say about your character? Or worse yet, no one says a thing, not even your friends?

Well then. Might I make some suggestions that will help with refining and definition of characters?

When you don't get the response you're looking for when you show off your character, you need to go back and change what you need. And don't get discouraged. If you get discouraged every time you show your work, you won't want to go back and try again.

Also, don't just show your designs to your friends; they will lie. They do it because you're all good people and they like you, not because they want you to fail, but they will screw you up and derail you fast.

When creating a character for a video game, there's some stuff that all artists/designers should keep in mind. (In my opinion...)

  • The world where your character lives
  • The way the character interacts with the world
  • How the player controls the character
  • Avoid Mary-Sues or Masturbation (gasp!)

First off, knowing the world that the game takes place will give you a guide line for the character. As an example, say you're told that the game will be played inside of an abandon research lab and the game is about test animals that have become sentient and have built civilizations in the lab. You shouldn't design a character that is a giant sized, bipedal rhino that comes from the future where Aztecs have taken over the world. You should design something that fits with in the story of the game. Like a lab rat that is above average intelligence and has make shift clothes made from items found around the lab.

Actually kinda like the rhino now...

Next, we look at how the character interacts with the world. To design a character that fits the game, you need to stay with in the confines of the design. Take the same game from the example above. If you take that rat character and give them an amazing tool set that makes them into a mini-Batman or IronMan, then it will pull the player away from the game world, creating a detach from the game that the player may otherwise enjoy. Instead, if you give the rat a hand full of office supplies made into primitive but useful tools, it will draw that character closer to that world because they are more grounded to the world and story the character is in.

And when the player is controlling your character, you will need to think of how they view that character and how it is being maneuvered in that environment. If your pouring detail into a character that will never be seen up close, then when it is in the game, it will look muddy and jumbled; no clear direction to who the character is or what their purpose is. Again, lets use that example from above. Lets say the game is played in 3rd person with the camera similar to Mario 64. It's far enough back to see the whole character, but not so close that you can see too much detail. Now would you put all the tools that the rat has on its back? That is just making it hard to see behind a mess of McGyver'd stuff. Instead, you can give him a simple bag that he can pull whichever tool he needs.
Really close...

Similarly, give some thought on the silhouette of your character. If you have a character that is supposed to be jolly and calm, you shouldn't make them sharp and dangerous looking. The player should be able to recognize the character even when obstructed. It's important so that they don't get lost on the screen, which does happen.
Which mouse is easier to recognize as a mouse?

Mary-Sue-ing or Masturbation (as I like to call it) is when the artist/designer/producer/anybody inserts themselves in the game with no real thought on how the player will perceive this character or how it'll fit in the world, established or not. It's a self gratification for the simple purpose of making one person feel good. Sure, others might not mind the design, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea.
Kinda sad really...

One look around deviantart and you can see just how many "original" characters that's someones self insert into their favorite franchise. These characters usually have few to no flaws and weaknesses, apparently know every other character, usually intimately, and have saved them all from destruction. These kind of designs may seem innocent enough, but they won't likely get you anywhere in the video game industry. Strive to be better than taking a blue mascot, painting it yellow, and calling it an original character.

Last thing I think I should mention is to listen to every bit of criticism you get, especially the mean stuff. If there is something someone doesn't like, examine it and find out why. Not everyone will tell you what they don't like about it or why, but just keep plugging away and you'll make something to be proud of.

Hope it helped!
(Ps. Final note, I swear. KEEP PRACTICING!!!)

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